“She’s still trying to find her groove”

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Photo by Talbot Cox

I was surprised by some of the takeaways I’ve seen of a recent podcast and interview of mine: that I don’t have it all figured out, and that I’m still trying to find my groove. I didn’t expect to be perceived as unique or vulnerable in talking about how I continue to learn about my sport, or build a better relationship with my coach.

I don’t love the implication that in saying I don’t have all the answers, I’m admitting that I’m not great at what I do. I believe that the capacity to be always learning is a key factor that differentiates people who reach the top of their field.

It’s not that I don’t already know a lot about my training. I’m happy to geek out on any aspect (except maybe some specific workout where I turn off my mind and just let me coach tell me what to do). But I also know there is always more out there. Or some way to refine a system. Or some input that changes as I get older.
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And TBH, this perpetual student mindset is my “groove.” I would get bored without it. Insofar as boredom is a contributor to burnout, I believe the mindset in itself helps my longevity as an athlete.
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Expert status, mastery, they are not destinations, they are states of mind. So are relationships. I say I’m continuing to improve my relationship with my coach. In no way does that mean we don’t have a good one. I’m continuing to improve my relationship with my mother, and I’ve loved her my whole life. Relationships take active work. You should grow deeper understanding with someone the longer you know them. That is one reason this extra year of training for the Olympic summer has been a hidden gift.
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I fully expect to progress in the next year. But I will never progress to the point where I stop giving “vulnerable” interviews about how I’m “figuring it all out.” I guess I’m saying I have figured out all I need: The moment that I stop the beginner mindset, the moment I no longer want to learn or improve, is the moment I retire.

(For reference, podcast is Running on Om. I so enjoyed this discussion with Julia. And I do admit that I ramble around my point … I could probably work on that and seem more authoritative.)

Life stress = workout stress

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We found out in the middle of my indoor season that Guinness has an incurable tumor, and it will be fatal within a matter of weeks. The whole thing has been so sad. I have never had a dog before, and even though I know they don’t live long, it’s devastating when the end I comes. Especially when it’s abrupt and early like this.

I know I’m a bit off the normal track topics. I’m putting this on the training blog because it has noticeably impacted my training. I’m spending any extra time and energy taking care of him. And while running is a nice escape, my workouts have been inconsistent and sometimes mediocre. I can’t always muster the will to push to those deep places. It’s a reminder that stress has total body impacts, regardless of the source of stressor. So I don’t much care that my workouts are less than ideal. I’m doing what I can given the situation. And I’m grateful for a coach who understands that as well.

I raced the Prefontaine Classic


Pre is the premiere track meet in the US, the only Diamond League meeting on American soil. Every year, the best of the best converge on Eugene, Oregon. It’s my second year racing the 1500m at this meet. Last year I went out hard, sharing the lead momentarily. The pack overtook me, and I ended up barely beat at the line by another American, Brenda Martinez. This year, the plan was to stay in the back, let the race play out, and kick to pick up any carnage on the final lap.

In terms of process goals, I executed the first part well. I felt more aware in this race than I have in past years. In my view, I had been treating 1500s like long 800s: go out hard, and try to not die more than the other people. But that’s not how the race is best run (it’s usually more of a sit and kick situation, with a negative split between the first and second half).

But if you are playing the waiting game, there has to be a switch. On Saturday, everyone started gearing up for their move with 400m to go, and I just… didn’t. I had been keying off Shelby for the first three laps, and her race was the picture of how this plan is supposed to work: she moved up starting at 400m, and unleashed a monster kick coming down the home stretch, to win the thing.  She’s been crushing workouts, and it’s transferring to competition. This is a huge win for her.

My last 400 was slower than my other laps. The end result was a poor place, and a slower time than last year. Part of that may have been mental, when people started pulling away and I didn’t have it, maybe I let a few more seconds slide. But there was also a physical component.

After the race, all I can say to Jerry is that I felt… tired. I’m not a cheetah waiting to pounce, I’m more a cheetah at the end of a long run, who wants to get off my feet and curl up. That is not the ideal spirit animal!! He sees improvement with the way I handled the first part, and admonishes me to keep head to the grindstone. It’s all a part of the program.

Photo by How Lao



You are your own business, your race results are the product, who do you pick for your board of advisors? (Okay, maybe most small business don’t have boards, but this is my imaginary scenario, and anything is possible).

Call them mentors, #1 fans co-conspirators, there are going to be people in addition to a coach who play a role in your athletic career.  You can call them family and friends, though I’ve found that I prefer to consciously choose who I let in on the details of my training and development. My parents love me, but I’m not texting them after a bad workout. That’s why I like the board of advisors thought exercise. It helps define who plays which roles for me, especially when roles can overlap. As I navigate bonding with a new coach, a rocky first few months, and a new training program, I am especially aware of these supportive figures in my life, and so thankful for them.

Aren’t mentors irrelevant if you have a good coach? Maybe for some, but I’ve found they hold different functions. I want a coach to keep me accountable, to raise the bar high and keep me reaching for it. I’ve found that I push myself hardest in practice when I have more of a “tough love” relationship with a coach. If I never break the seal and ask for mercy, that in itself strengthens my resolve… it’s a nonnegotiable. I want a coach to be honest and realistic, because only in that way can the relationship maintain its integrity. We both want big things, and we won’t pretend to have reached the goal until we are there. Trust grows in this way, and we can have direct conversations about what’s going well, and what’s not. I believe that a working relationship based on high standards, trust and psychological safety will produce the best results. And when those results come, they come with the satisfaction of mutual achievement.

But the growth phase is hard. The coach isn’t going to baby me, but man, I want someone to! Whereas I’m going to always try to bring my best self to interactions with a coach, I sometimes need to be able to admit when I’m scared, or unsure. I want help with nurturing my confidence, maybe now more than ever. And I love me a partner in crime. This person can be a significant other, a dear past coach, a trusted mentor. In my reality, it’s all of these people at different times, hence the board analogy.

Sometimes it’s helpful to have someone who will shamelessly make me feel better. At others, it’s nice to be able to brainstorm about what I might be overlooking in training, the auxiliary parts that my coach doesn’t oversee. For example, how do I process the “failure” of the workout last week? Should I re-evaluate nutrition, strength and recovery for missing links? Or is it better to reframe, realize that I’m completing longer and more intense sessions than I ever have, that it’s only in comparison to training partners that it seems I’m coming up short? Questions like this are always popping up through the duration of a season… when to make changes, when to stay the course. Improvement is a dynamic process. Of course I could come up with answers on my own, but seeing my development through an advisor’s eyes can be enlightening and reassuring.

I believe my ability to stay positive, long-term focused, confident, purposeful, joyful, has been due to an incredible support group. People like this impart a feeling of security, they enable me to take risks and dream big. I can’t imagine my career and track accomplishments without them.